New state law requires schools to veer away from "zero tolerance" punishments

'Restorative justice' in schools

ROCKFORD, MICH. - It's about keeping students in the classroom. 

Students will make their way back to school within the next few weeks, but right now, administrations throughout the state are working to develop a state mandated plan on how to handle student misconduct.

Rockford Schools Administration is one of those. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Kelly said his day started before 8:00 a.m. with restorative justice training.  

"The whole purpose of restorative practice is to not have students expelled or suspended, we'd rather have them in the classroom learning things," Kelly said. 

Kelly said Rockford was already closer to restorative type measures, so the fiscal cost for them will be low.

"Even if it is a little more work, as long as it affects our school positively-- it is well worth it," Kelly said. 

The key to this type of approach is fostering relationships with students and their families in effort to better handle misbehavior when it happens. 

"What can we do to keep them in school and have them still learn their lesson so its not repeated."

Restorative justice is about providing students with options instead of dolling out harsh punishment, but there is a line drawn. 

"Weapons, guns, drugs-- things like that there's still zero tolerance there," Kelly stressed. 

The effectiveness of the program will be measured in terms of how many suspensions and expulsions are given compared to previous years. Kelly said he is fully confident that their new approach will result in less punishments. 

Rockford schools, like many, are still in the early stages of devising their plan, but once it is finalized- each school will be responsible for notifying their students. 

This shift will be easier for some districts. Grand Rapids, for example, implemented restorative justice practices in 33 of their schools last year, and officials there say it's been a success. 

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